Harry Brown (2009)

Rating: B-

Dir: Daniel Barber
Star: Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Ben Drew, Charlie Creed-Miles

On a bleak Elephant & Castle estate, where crime and the local yobs run rampant, ex-Marine Harry Brown (Caine) lives a solitary life. The games of chess at the local pub with another senior citizen, Len, are his main diversion, especially after Harry’s wife passed away, but they come to an end when Len falls victim to a brutal assault in the underpass where the youths congregate. Detectives Frampton (Mortimer) and Hicock (Creed-Miles) are assigned to the case, and are certain they know who did it – but proving the case against Noel (Drew) and the rest of his gang is hard, especially as Len was carrying his old army bayonet as protection.

Having had enough, Harry takes justice into his own hands, and goes to buy a pistol from a local dealer; the deal doesn’t quite work out as planned, though he gets his weapon and begins to clean up the streets. The police think it’d a turf war, and stage a raid on the estate, only for a riot to break out. Can Harry complete his mission, with the silent enemy of his emphysema also looming?

In some ways, it’s just another urban vigilante flick, in the vain of Death Wish, though the age of its protagonist, and his military regime makes it play like a British version of Gran Torino. Caine has much the same background in British actor, as Eastwood does in America – Get Carter and Dirty Harry, respectively, irrevocably establishing their credentials as someone with whom you do not mess. This doesn’t quite have the heart of Gran Torino, where the grumpy old man became a beloved grandfather figure. Here, Brown stays grumpy, and with good reason: we’ve quite gone off the idea of moving back to South London, thank you very much. If probably implausible, In lesser acting hands than Caine’s, this could have been nothing more than shallow, fearmongering exploitation. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, of course – yet, instead, it’s shallow, fearmongering exploitation with a heart. And it’s no small difference.